VOLPOWER Roundtable

10 June 2021 – Notes & Evaluation

Volpower’s roundtable, Volunteering Youth and Empowering Social Integration in Europe: Problems and Challenges of Volunteerism took place as a Zoom-event on 10 June 2021. For the roundtable, besides the President of Centre for European Volunteering (Lejla Sehic Relic), the call coordinator for AMIF-projects (lulia Barbu Vlachopoulos), Volpower’s advisory board member (George Thomson) and two scholars working on citizenship and belonging (Prof. Robin HarperYork College/CUNY and Dr Susan Rottmann – Istanbul Özyegin University), representatives of seven other AMIF-funded projects working on social integration and volunteerism were invited. The Commissioner, MariyaGabriel and her team were also invited. However, due to their other arrangements they could not participate in the roundtable. In total, 29 participants were around the digital table.

In the opening session, the coordinator of the Volpower project, Prof Umut Korkut (Glasgow Caledonian University) welcomed the participants and provided an overview about Volpower’s main objectives and achievements. In his speech, Prof Korkut pointed out the central role of volunteering activities in social integration processes of newcomers. Volpower is a project that investigates migration, social inclusion, and volunteering. It advocates that increasingly macro-politics, citizenship and nationalism related issues and demands interfere into the everyday interactions of people. It is mostly the young people that are affected by these macro-issues. Instead, Volpower proposes that we can cultivate joint belongingness in societies and localities if we can foreground our interests and share them with each other in our wider communities. When we see ourselves in everyday environments, we do not approach each other glancing into our citizenship or legal status, but how we get on with life as members of our communities. Volunteering gives us a chance to show that we belong to our societies, and we all have a contribution to make. Overall, this project portrays how belongingness is expressed and experienced through volunteering.

This session was ended with a trailer about the Volpower documentary. 

The roundtable is structured along two sessions: in the first session, AMIF-funded projects were presented.

Session 1

  • Ms Zsuzsi Vég (Terre des hommes – Hungary) presented the MINT project (Mentoring for integration of children affected by migration). MINT designed an innovative peer-to-peer mentoring programme based on good practices and tested models. As a result, the project has supported 120 migrant children in their integration efforts by trained local peer mentors; provided training to more than 1000 children through their activities.
  • Mr Stamatios Pittas (Municipality of PiraeusGreece) presented the MIVA project (Migrants’ Integration through Volunteering Activities). This project aimed to enhance the integration of Third Country Nationals’ through their participation in the social and cultural life of the host community, and to foster capacity-building of local communities via volunteering and cultural actions. MIVA has developed several educational resources, organised capacity-building workshops and several other interactive activities for raising awareness about multicultural societies.
  • Mrs Martina Finessi (Defence for Children International Italia) presented the RE-GENERATIONS project. This project’s primary focus was to foster active citizenship through four types of activities: “Capacity building”, “Exchange through active participation”, “Inter-agency cooperation” and “Supervision and transfer of knowledge”. In all these activities more than 200 mentors and 200 young third-country nationals (18-21 years old), and numerous local actors were involved.
  • Mrs Amparo Coterillo (DocumentaSpain) presented their AMIF-project InCommon Toolbox. This project aimed to empower migrant women by providing a specific training on key competences and on leadership; enhance their participation in their local communities, and foster a cross-cultural dialogue through well-designed activities in different localities. The project has produced a “toolkit” for migrant women and organised numerous virtual and on-site events.
  • Fabio Brandoni (Legambiente, Italy) presented the INVOLVE project (INtegration of migrants as VOLunteers for the safeguarding of Vulnerable Environments). The primary aim of this project was to enhance the inclusion of Third-country nationals by involving them in voluntary activities, for example, those targeted at environmental heritage recovery and improvement. By doing this, the project tried to build safer and more cohesive communities; established 7 local hubs, organised workshops and international volunteer camps.
  • Mrs Isabella Belcari (Cesvot – Centro Servizi Volontariato Toscana) presented the AMIF-funded project, EU-VOICE. The project aimed to support the integration of migrants and promote exchanges between TCNs and host-country nationals through a 25-days volunteering experience in the cultural sector for 320 people. Furthermore, the project team has produced a project brochure, a methodology document for trainers, a toolkit for volunteers and a training booklet.

Session 2

The second session, chaired by Dr Ursula Reeger (OEAW) and Dr Andrea Carlà (EURAC), focused on Volpower’s Policy Recommendations. In their feedback for the policy recommendations participants expressed their content and satisfaction with the document and made some suggestions and provided their general remarks on the problems and challenges of volunteerism in the context of social integration.

  • The call coordinator for AMIF projects, Ms lulia Barbu Vlachopoulos pointed out the key role that volunteerism plays in the creation of communities and the central role of youth for developing a culture of active citizenship.
  • The President of Centre for European Volunteering, Mrs Lejla Sehic Relic listed several key issues that volunteerism could contribute. One of them, according to her, is “inclusion” that volunteerism can make a significant impact. Furthermore, she emphasized the importance of volunteerism for the well-being of individuals involved. Despite its vital role, volunteerism unfortunately still does not receive enough attention and is positioned in many countries in the margins of public policy making. Volunteerism, according to Mrs Relic should be seen as a key element in the transformation of our societies. She also underlined the importance of resources which will strengthen volunteering activities and expand the volunteering space in our contemporary societies.
  • The Advisory Board member of the Volpower project, Mr. George Thomson emphasised the vitality of volunteerism for integration of newcomers. His message to the policymakers was clear: Listen to the voices of volunteers!
  • Prof. Robin Harper (York College/CUNY) in her reflections raised a critical question about our expectations from volunteerism and immigrants engaging with volunteering activities. Voluntary action, according to Prof Harper, has a community building function. It is the terrain for imagining a society different than what we have at the present. She furthermore stated that the policymakers should invest more on public-private partnership models, targeting and matching more different populations.
  • Dr. Susan Rottman (Istanbul Ozyegin University) in her reflection remarks pointed out how volunteering leads to different forms of belonging and how through engaging with volunteering activities immigrants/newcomers exercise their agency. In her previous project (https://respondmigration.com), one central aspect was that almost all refugees found volunteering organizations more welcoming, which also explains the key role of volunteering organizations in fostering a welcoming culture, social integration and belonging.

All participants expressed their satisfaction with the overall content of the policy recommendations; found the recommendations “comprehensive” and “inspiring” for understanding the main challenges of volunteerism. The representatives of AMIF-projects mentioned similar points about the recommendations. Amparo Coterillo (DocumentaSpain) pointed out the importance of learning migrant women’s own experiences in developing training modules, which should be based on discussions rather than a one-way monologue where migrants are usually positioned as the ‘audience’. Zsuzsi Vég (Terre des hommes – Hungary) highlighted the gender aspect in volunteering activities. The high participation of young girls and women in volunteering activities is an important indicator of change in traditional norms and positions. Martina Finessi (Defence for Children International Italia) drew our attention how in practice young immigrants are pressured to do volunteering, which should be avoided in volunteering activities. Isabella Belcari (Cesvot) highlighted the vitality of building trust between volunteers and newcomers. In order to tackle this, she advised to have a micro-level eye when approaching people and trying to understand their stories. One other point she stated was the perception of authorities about volunteering activities. Accordingly, volunteering is seen by some as a “resource” but by some others as a “problem”. Lejla Sehic Relic (CEV) suggested to include “volunteering” in civic education. Zsuzsi Vég gave an example from Hungary where 50-hours of volunteering is integrated as part of the curriculum for high school students. 

In the closing session, George Thomson (Associate for Volunteer Scotland) mentioned their lobbying efforts to bring IAVE’s conference (https://www.iave.org) in 2024 to Glasgow and invited all participants to this event. The roundtable ended with the closure remarks of Prof Korkut.

Overall, the roundtable has illustrated well both the commonalities and the richness of activities conducted by different AMIF-projects and the key (but oftentimes not recognized) key role of volunteers and volunteering organizations, particularly in the field of social integration, humanitarian aid and first response to adversities as well as in the recovery phase. Based on the rich discussion, all participants were in the same opinion to increase their collaboration in future projects and to work effortlessly to mainstream volunteerism as a central public policy area and expand the space for volunteering activities in our contemporary societies.